This was the first fan fiction story I ever wrote, back in 7th grade. (I've had to edit it a lot since then). I don't own any Combat! characters, sadly.
In The Minds Of Soldiers
Courage. Such a small word for so vast a meaning. The men I've killed and the horrors I've seen are numerous; I can't count them. Day after day, month after month- it's all the same routine. How many will survive, this time, of the replacements that were sent? How many will die on their first day and be left on the bloody front to never see, feel, touch or breathe again?
I must not allow thoughts like that to creep into my mind. Thinking on such things is dangerous. But I can't help it. Out here, there is a constant struggle between staying alive and going insane. We are soldiers. We are here to fight, move on and move out. No time for regrets and feelings. Such sentiments are distant thoughts; some of the many things we left at home.
Home. The word has taken on quite a different meaning since I left the Bronx. Now, anywhere I can rest my head for a while is a home. An occasional letter from family across the sea is the only reminder of the life I had before the war. Only one letter has survived the cruelties I've been through. The writing is faded, but the first line stands out above the rest:
Dear Chip, I hope this makes you smile!
I don't remember what I was supposed to smile at. Smile? It's been so long since I have smiled, laughed or shown any sign of happiness. How can I smile? How can I be glad? Men are dying all around me, and I can do nothing to stop it. Everyone tells me it's not my fault, and I know it isn't- but sometimes, it feels like it is. A GI got it just an hour ago. He was young, just a boy really. I don't think he had even shaved yet. And now, the letter I must write to his mother lies unwritten in my mind, unavoidable.
Oh, to be back in the life of yesterday, back when war was a far off place where no one wanted to go. Sometimes, it's nice just to think back to how my life used to be- before the war, before anything. But how can I waste time thinking of things so distant when I am running for my life and the lives of my men almost every single day? How can I not focus only on today, rather than on yesterday or tomorrow?
So many die. So few survive. "Have courage!" they tell us. They do not know what my life has become, how hard it is to routinely have 'courage'. But I know. We all know. Every day we are forced to know. To feel courageous, however, is something completely different.
Fear. Pain. Two words we all know. Or thought we knew. Do you really know what fear is? Have you seen fear, like I have, in the faces of boys when they see their first glimpse of action? Have you seen pain, like I have, in the faces of civilians when they learn that they will never see their loved ones again? When I see men fall all around me, when I quickly reload my Thompson with another clip so that I am able to live for a few moments, when a child walks among ruins crying for its mother, when the night sky is lit up with the raining shells of artillery fire- I know true fear; I know true pain.
I live in fear. My life is made up of fear. Fear of slipping, fear of making a mistake. Any false move I make hurts someone else. The littlest hesitation, say, deciding whether to stay or go, can result in death. Perhaps not mine, but the death of one of my men. I have been told not to linger on death, to move on quickly. But I find myself thinking about it more and more. How can I not, when I know that a solider died because of my hesitation, my mistake, my slip?
I shiver in my worn uniform. Winter is the worst time to be at war. At least we aren't out fighting. This moment of rest won't last long. We could be sent back out any time, any day. We soldiers operate around the clock, yes sir. Does anyone know how tired we are, when we finally get back to our lines after running for our lives, avoiding the enemy, narrowly evading capture?
Snow has drifted everywhere outside. It's freezing out there. I used to think it was cold back in Chicago. Now that seems very far away and a much warmer place than it is here. I'd do anything for a hot cup of- well, something hot at this point. I feel so cold, so frozen inside. It's like I'll never feel anything ever again. Despite the drafty walls, it is warmer inside than out. Am I glad I'm not on sentry duty.
I close my eyes and for a few moments, let my thoughts drift. I am tired. Worn out. Today was miserable. But the Sarge got us out of it all; he always does. I can't think of a time when he's ever let us down. I open my eyes and raise my head to look at his weary figure slumped in one corner. He looks really down, but I can't blame him. I can't do anything about it either.
Still, I hate to see the Sarge this way. I think I saw him smile once. Back towards the beginning of the war. We had just received mail, mail from a place where there was laughter, joy, and best of all, no war.
A surge of anger passes over me but fades in the next instant. Stupid war. Stupid winter. Stupid everything. When I was unhappy with something back home, my older sister would hold my hands tightly and say "Just imagine it different!". But I can't do that now. There's no hiding from the facts of life this time. It's too real, too sudden. No time to play games.
I close my eyes again and my mind begins to wander to far off memories. I'm back at the hospital. That seems ages ago, but everything passes rapidly when you're on the front. One minute you're sharing a laugh with a guy you know, the next he's cold and dead on a bitter battlefield.
The hospital is heaven for some guys, depending on the reason you're there. In hospitals there's hot food, no Krauts, a real bed and not to mention pretty nurses everywhere. It was there I met my girl.
"I'll kiss you goodbye," she told me mournfully the day I checked out of the hospital. I had recovered enough to be able to return to my duties on the front lines. It was time to leave.
"Nah, it ain't goodbye, just 'so long'," I had told her, trying my best to reassure her. I held her close. I stroked her hair. This might be the last time I ever saw her.
Her lips are soft, sweet; it's pure ecstasy. She's something that's only a distant dream on the front lines. She breaks away after a moment. A worried frown is etched on her face. I think I know why. Biting her lip tensely, she murmurs, "Kirby, what if..." she swallows and buries her face back in my chest, her sentence unfinished. I know what she is thinking. What if you don't come back?
I do the only thing I can do- hold her closer. The unsaid words hover above us, a fog that I can't see through. I might survive this damn war, and I might not. The thought of dying chills me a little. Is it like falling asleep, or very painful? How will I go? Will I die heroically or be left behind, as hundreds are, forgotten and alone?
I shake those invading thoughts away. It's dangerous to think like that. I squeeze her tight and then release her. Tipping her face up towards mine, and sounding more sure than I really am, I tell her, "I will come back. For you."
Four months ago that happened. Just a four mere months. Memories are so blissful while being played over in your mind. But sooner or later, you have return to reality, growing cold and unfeeling once more. I am so still. So tired. So desolate. But I have survived this long, and for her alone, I will live on.
I shift my M1 once again, turning its weight to my other shoulder. The tree I lean against stands tall and rugged, the only one still standing in this bombed town. There is so much rubble, so many ruins all around me. The town we are stationed in now is not much more than a bunch of crumbling buildings housing freezing soldiers. Still, this is better than some places we have passed through before.
The night is still and frigid. A few wandering snow flakes descend from a bright and clear sky. The moon is out tonight, shining like a sliver of white fire in a sea of starry black. This moment of peace almost puts me at ease. Almost, but not quite. After all, a Kraut could come up behind me any moment and stab me in the back. There is no time for moments of peace.
I nervously glance behind me. Save the walking sentry about 200 yards away from me, nothing is out or moving. I sigh with, what- relief? There wasn't a German behind me; I will live a bit longer now. That doesn't mean I can relax.
Standing up a bit straighter, I peer out from my post. How long have I been out here? Three hours, I think. My watch is nearly over. Only a little more to go. I can do this. Ah, but I am so exhausted! I rub my forehead jadedly. All day I managed to stand upright, now all I want to do is sleep. And sleep. And sleep. And sleep.
The air seems to grow colder the longer I scan the snow-covered landscape from my position in front of the tree. So tired. So icy. So quiet. I must stay alert; I must be vigilant. Each moment might be the last I spend on this earth. Nothing must escape my notice. One false step and-
No. I must not think things like that. How many times have I heard, "Caje, take the point."? Too often. Yet, each time I have lived while being the first to investigate unfamiliar territory. No one has gotten me yet. Still, that doesn't make it anymore enjoyable.
Being the first to venture out is not something one eagerly volunteers for, knowing someone or something might jump out in front of them without warning. However, it can have its advantages. When I'm in front, none of the men are able to see me. They can't see my fearful eyes and shaking hands. They can't hear my heart thud rapidly against my chest. They can't know.
I think of the many crying civilians among the destroyed ruins. They wail with songs of distress and despair. To most the words are foreign and strange. They do not understand what the people are saying. But I do. How can I not? One woman I heard was searching among the sea of endless destruction, crying, "Oh mon bébé! Où est mon bébé?" No one heard her despondent cry for her lost child. No one understood. No one could comfort her. No one could help her.
I hear, but I know there is nothing I can do for them. I must move on. My place is not here. Ignore them. Forget them. That is the advice I'm given. But it's impossible to ignore, to forget. I leave the mourning people behind, but their stories stay with me. So many voices of sorrow echo in my mind, haunting me when I am alone.
Like I am now. My breath comes heavily, fogging in the early morning air. So much for serenity.
I look across at the far off France horizon. The sun is barley peaking our from behind the massive Alps. Its light slowly covers the sleeping land, sweeping across the debris, ruins and wreckage. Skeletons of derelict buildings cast eerie shadows over the remains of many bombings. A verse pops into my head as I watch the sight before me, entranced.
On those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned.
I don't even remember where it came from, but somehow, it fills me with a certain confidence. For the first time in weeks a small smile crawls on my lips. A light has dawned upon the broken ones, and upon me. And with that light, hope has formed.